For these reasons, menu innovation is difficult, but it’s still a necessary part of running a restaurant. Earlier in the pandemic, guests may have had more patience for shrinking menus, higher prices, and less-than-stellar service. After all, these issues were widely publicized and consumers were thought to be in forgiving moods. That patience may be running out, Slavin says.
“Guests are craving unique and interesting menu items,” Slavin says. “That stands in direct contrast to the previous two years of menu reductions and more of the same old stuff. Your customers are likely getting tired of that by now. When they dine out, they want something new.”
Matt Harding, executive chef of The Piada Group, owner of 49 fast-casual Italian restaurants and one full-service restaurant, agrees with Slavin. Harding contends that what diners are looking for goes beyond great food. For this reason, versatile, reliable ingredients that can guarantee interesting menu options are essential. Harding suggests that pasta, then, is the perfect way for chefs to meet the moment.
“One thing I know will never go out of style, like a good classic suit, is hospitality,” Harding says. “I’m a huge advocate for getting back to what hospitality used to mean. And when diners go to a restaurant, they’re looking for comfort and that satisfaction to help ground them in their days. For a lot of people, pasta does just that. And that’s great news for chefs, because pasta truly is the ultimate canvas.”
A Menu Must-Have